The heat of April midday sun was beyond smothering. In the middle of a five-hectare sugarcane plantation in Sipalay City, Negros Occidental, Raymund Molato huriedly walked as he hugged three six-feet long sugarcane stalks. He then patiently stacked each of the stalks which were as big as his arms.
Sweat trickled down Raymund’s palid face. He was crawling atop the pile of canes when he suddenly shouted. “Nanay!” Followed by a shriek of paint. His mother, father, and two other siblings ran to his direction.
Clad in a torn, grimy, sleeveless shirt, Raymund was silently crying in pain. His frail left foot was stuck in between the piled stalks. After pulling out his foot, Alejandra, his mother, gently massaged his ankles. Looking surprisingly embarrassed, she told us, “Hindi pa kasi sanay Sir.” (He is not yet used to this Sir.)
Raymund is just six years old. His other sister, Regine, is seven. His older brother, Rolly, is nine.
Together with his parents and three other siblings, Raymund has to work to save up for his much needed school supplies for the opening of classes in June. For 35 pesos for a six-hour work on field , he toils his tender body every day during summer vacation. Raymund belongs to the fourth generation of sugarcane plantation workers—sakada as they are locally referred to— both in his mother’s and father’s lineage.
According to the 2011 Survey on Children of the National Statistics Office and the International Labor Organization, more than five million Filipino children aged 5 to 17 years old were already working. Of this number, an estimated three million children were working in (1) hazardous work environment, and (2) were working for long hours.
The situation of Raymond and his siblings is a grim reality to these statistics.
“Hindi man kami kakaon, kun hindi kami tanan mamugon.” (We can’t have food on our table if we won’t all work for it.) I could sense desperation in Alejandra’s voice as she told us their situation. She has nine children. Eating three times a day is an a elusive luxury for her family. They usually skip lunch for an early supper at 6 PM.
Alejandra said that just like Raymund, she was working in sugarcane plantations as early as six years old. “Grade Six lang Sir akon gintapusan.” (I stopped going to school at Sixth Grade).
The Survey on Children also found out that seven in ten children in hazardous labor were at the same time attending school. And the number of children in hazardous labor who were attending school was higher among children 5 to 9 years old than among children 15 to 17 years old.
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According to Ms. Ma. Gianeli Caparida, Raymund’s teacher, his case happens to a lot of their students in Bawog Elementary School, in Brgy. Camindangan, Sipalay City. “Yung iba nga Sir, a-absent talaga sila pag tag-ani ng tubo. Kasi magta-trabaho sila.” (For some students, they will not go to school during sugarcane harvest seasons. They say they have to work.) Students’ performance at school are also affected. Teacher Caparida added that her working students are distracted at school. They usually spend school hours sleeping on their seats.
Seeing the trend, Teacher Caparida fears for Raymund. “Baka kasi Sir matulad din siya sa iba na magda-drop-out lang din, di pa man tapos ang school year kasi magtatrabaho na lang sila.” (He might end up dropping out of school, just like our other students because he has to work.)
Barely a month before the opening of classes, Alejandra was not even sure if she could enrol her kids. But she shared that Raymund is persistent to study. Raymund would tell them he hopes to be the first college graduate in his entire ancestry.
With hesitant pauses in between words, Alajndra said, “Ginatingwaan guid namon nga paeskwelahon man sila.” ( We are really trying our best to send them to school.)
Outtakes’ Note: This is the outtakes of our 24 Oras’ back-to-school specials in Sipalay City, Negros Occidental. This is also part of the annual Unang Hakbang sa Kinabukasan project of GMA Kapuso Foundation that provides free school supplies to over 50,000 in-coming kinder and grade one pupils all over the Philippines. Here is the actual story aired on 24 Oras: